Nearly two years ago, Nikki DeGidio was diagnosed with celiac disease—a life-altering development even before you factor in her job as chef de cuisine at Stoneburner, a Ballard restaurant known for its pasta and pizza.
This turn of events (plus related intolerance for dairy and soy) sidelined some grand plans DeGidio had made with her boss, Jason Stoneburner—directions for their menu, thoughts of additional restaurants. Now, DeGidio's boss and mentor is partnering with her to open Lucky Santo, a restaurant where DeGidio can apply a career’s worth of culinary training to ingredients that won’t make her miserable. These stealthily healthful creations will be served in the quaint former home of Cocina Esperanza at 3127 NW 85th in the Sunset Hill area.
Lucky Santo will eschew dairy, grains, legumes, refined sugar, and soy and canola oils. DeGidio had always been a fan of healthful eating in her personal life, though she acknowledges that term means different things to different people. Her food will draw big flavors from carefully sourced proteins and massive amounts of vibrant vegetables, she says. "It's like being a vegan, but with meat."
Most diners know Stoneburner (the restaurant) as a playground of come-hither carbs. But both Stoneburner (the chef) and DiGidio also built a broad, maybe even equally exciting lineup of vegetable dishes, an aptitude that will definitely extend to Lucky Santo, where celeriac becomes noodles for chicken liver bolognese and mashed and braised winter vegetables form the base for a hearty pot roast bowl.
Stoneburner, to be clear, isn’t stepping away from his many roles within the James Weimann and Deming Maclise empire. (In addition to overseeing the menus at Bastille and the eponymous Stoneburner in Ballard, he’s also executive chef of Seaplane, which opens this month in Kenmore.) His partnership in Lucky Santo is a side project of sorts, a mentorship that now extends from culinary matters to the business side of a restaurant. Not to mention the fine art of sourcing from upwards of 30 different farmers.
A guy who examines restaurants and concepts as a matter of course in his job, Stoneburner says he hasn't seen many mindful eating concepts from chefs who built their careers in finer dining. "She knows how to build flavors from being classically French trained," he says. "Nikki's food is healthy without you knowing it."
Lucky Santo will open at 8am with coffee, takeaway bone broth, and a long list of smoothies, one of which pays tribute to the Gob Shoppe, a head shop that used to occupy this address. (Yes, of course it's made with hemp milk.)
Lunch and dinner at this casual, counter service spot runs a hearty gamut from sweet potato and cauliflower falafel to braised short ribs with curry to steamed mussels with bacon and collards. DeGidio's particularly excited about her veggie noodle spin on chicken pho. Weekend brunch brings zucchini-quinoa toast and eggs atop a vegetable hash. A pastry case might contain almond butter cups, zucchini bread, and some intriguingly named "big ass breakfast cookies."
James Lechner, Stoneburner's business partner and the wine czar for the Weimann-Maclise universe, is writing a wine list of organic and natural bottles. Any beer on the menu here will, obviously, be gluten free.
One of the biggest hurdles to eating mindfully, Stoneburner points out, is all the freaking prep work. The restaurant, named for DeGidio's two dogs, will have a large grab-and-go lineup aimed directly at busy families in the area—not to mention a patio will more than double its 45-seat capacity during warmer months.
DeGidio and her boss-turned-business-partner met at Campagne a dozen years ago, but their professional relationship solidified during her six years at Stoneburner. "There were tears on both sides," Stoneburner recalls of her celiac diagnosis. The restaurant made accommodations so she wouldn't have to handle dough, but DeGidio didn't love building a menu at arm's length: "I had to really work with the sous chefs a lot; it was a very interesting style of teaching and learning without that shared taste." She'll officially put that chapter to rest when Lucky Santo opens, most likely in mid-December.